While the internet may be in a perpetual state of discussion as to whether zombies are still cool or vastly played out, the shambling mindless undead hold a perpetual place in my heart. I was extremely excited when Deadman’s Cross was downloading as I also have an extreme fondness for card-based games. Unfortunately those feelings of joy were as short lived as a new character on the Walking Dead.
At the beginning, the game presents a simple back story wherein a state of martial law was declared in light of a zombie outbreak. Your character followed instructions and remained inside his home for a month. Apparently he never turned on his television, radio or even looked out the window because he emerges into the world completely oblivious to what has been going on. This implausible scenario serves as the excuse for the game to run you through the tutorial, which seems to never completely go away. When entering certain areas to hunt zombies or accept missions I would be constantly prompted by the reminder of what one could do in this area no matter whether it was my third time or twentieth time entering.
Most of Deadman’s Cross is a dreary tap-fest. You tap to walk down corridors, check into rooms and interact with the world in general. Other than the hunting mini-game- which I will get into later- the entire game is simply tapping on the arrow for the direction you want to go or the item/character you want to interact with. Frequent encounters with roving bands of undead break up the monotony by engaging you in an exciting, strategic battle. Or they would, if the entirety of the combat wasn’t automated. Rather than exert any direct influence over your horde of zombies they fight your opponents one at a time until either side is out of combatants. One of the only parts of the game I enjoyed is that there are actual attack animations for the cards depending on the zombie’s abilities; some send a wave of flame washing across the face of an enemy while others fling disgusting leeches (for example).
Since you have no control over the combat, managing your horde takes place in a calmer fashion. You can feed your primary zombies the unwanted dross of undead you accumulate to beef them up. In an unusual design choice, feeding them various objects will also improve their abilities. For example, a pair of shoes will make your zombie faster and a book will increase their intelligence. The items you accumulate through completing missions. Additional zombies are hunted for in the only part of the game I genuinely enjoyed, even if only for a brief time.
To add more zombies to your stable of slavering undead you engage in a mini-game where you peer down the scope of a rifle and take aim at shambling/running/crawling/flying zombies. Unlike many universes, in this one the virus is not limited to humans. You’ll capture pigeons with evil red eyes and tattered wings, elephants with flesh sloughing off and alligators that didn’t need to be undead to terrify. You have a limited time to collect zombies and getting hit by the monsters you were shooting at knocks precious seconds off your clock. Unfortunately after a few hunts the mini-game is just another grind with no complexity or subtlety.
The only part of Deadman’s Cross that seemed to receive any real effort in its development were the illustrations for the zombie cards. They’re detailed and interesting though the cards that were clearly trying to be sexy in a profoundly disturbing fashion- such as the nurse zombie- made the game even less appealing. The writing, style, tone and crafting of the game are all sub-par to the point that in the hours I spent playing the game I had perhaps one or two genuine moments of enjoyment.
The game is an absolute nightmare of freemium exploitation. You can buy coins that allow you to refill your stamina via energy drinks, allowing you to complete more missions. The coins also allow you access to a better hunting ground with higher tiered monsters to collect. Playing through the game at the rate it allows you naturally would likely take months if not years.
Making this game less passive would have gone a long ways towards making it more enjoyable but as it stands Deadman’s Cross offers very little in the way of real gameplay. The automatic nature of the zombie battles that should be a pivotal, exciting point in the game makes the entire experience completely joyless.
With little to praise beyond one or two visual flourishes, Deadman’s Cross is as appealing as a zombie bite.